From Exile to President: How Another Marcos Became the President of the Philippines

On May 22, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a former Filipino Senator, was declared the new president-elect of the Philippines. He and his vice president, Sara Duterte, were sworn into office a month later, relieving Sara’s father, Rodrigo Duterte, of his duty as president. 

Bongbong and Sara are both the children of former presidents of the Philippines. Rodrigo Duterte’s time in office was one term and began in 2016. The elder Duterte’s reign ended when his daughter and Bongbong Marcos were sworn into their respective offices in June of last year. Bongbong Marcos’s father, Ferdinand Marcos, served from 1965 through 1986.

Ferdinand Marcos’s first term in office was not particularly noteworthy; he spent most of the term building a strong base in office by giving positions of power to his supporters. His main goals during this time included increasing the Philippines’ rice production and expanding the Philippine military . Marcos became the first person to be reelected to a second term as president of the Philippines in 1969. During this time, his campaign became associated with violence and fraud, as it was allegedly funded by millions from the national treasury. His second term caused great opposition as he assumed a more dictatorial style of rule which included the incarceration of opposing politicians and the heightened use of armed forces.

On Sep. 23, 1972, about halfway through his second term, Marcos declared martial law. A week before Marcos declared martial law, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. exposed “Oplan Sagittarius,” a secret plan proposed by Marcos to place Metro Manila and outlying areas under Philippine Constabulary rule, which would act as a precursor to martial law. 

With that exposure, even the U.S. embassy in Manila knew about Marcos’s martial law plan by Sep. 17. Marcos had planned to justify martial law by highlighting a sequence of bombings that took place in Manila in 1971. A day after Marcos declared martial law, Aquino Jr. and other members of the opposition to Marcos were arrested. After seeking medical relief in the United States, a freed Aquino Jr. returned to the Philippines. Many Filipinos had placed the hope of a new president on his shoulder. Shortly after stepping off the plane, Aquino Jr. was shot by a member of the military. He died at the scene.  

The declaration of martial law, coupled with many other controversial and corrupt actions, brought about a phrase that is still associated with Marcos today: “crony capitalism.” Marcos and his wife, Imelda, used their position to prop up regime members financially. 

Imelda Marcos was known for giving high-earning government positions to family members, while Ferdinand Marcos used his position to seize private companies and give them to his supporters. These moves, along with the Marcos withdrawing large sums of cash from the national bank caused widespread economic instability in the Philippines. 

As the Philippines’ economy continued to drop and more attention was given to Aquino Jr.’s death, the amount of scrutiny directed at Marcos increased. Marcos even began to feel pressure from wealthier Filipinos, a group that had traditionally supported him, his campaigns, and his presidency. 

In 1985, 56 elected officials signed a resolution that proposed his impeachment. The Resolution cited the corruption that Marcos and his wife directly instigated, which allowed the majority of Filipino citizens’ livelihoods to hang in the balance.

In response to mounting opposition, Marcos allowed special presidential elections to be held in 1986, more than a year away from the end of his term. The slain Benigno Jr.’s wife, Corazon Aquino, quickly became the favorite to unseat Marcos as president. 

However, Aquino was defeated, and Marcos won his own office for the rest of his term. The result of the election brought with it widespread allegations of a fraudulent count. As allegations built, tensions rose among the opposition to Marcos.

On Feb. 25, 1986, Marcos and many members of his family fled to Hawaii in exile. A federal grand jury indicted Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos for charges of racketeering, but Ferdinand Marcos soon died in 1989. 

A standing contempt judgment against Ferdinand and Imelda was issued by the United States and was linked to a human rights class suit. With the passing of his mother and father, Bongbong Marcos inherited the suit. The suit is an attempt to obtain assets and distribute them among victims of martial law which were implemented by the elder Marcos. 

According to records from the United States District Court and Court of Appeals, Marcos is being held in contempt for “contumacious conduct causing direct harm to [a class of human rights victims].” The price tag connected to the suit has reached a sum of more than $353 million — a sum that Marcos has avoided paying. 

Even now, the elder Marcos administration has yet to be held accountable for the atrocities they committed, and Bongbong has yet to acknowledge the acts committed under his father’s supervision. It is unlikely that he will ever have to face any grievances against his father due to the spread of disinformation regarding his father’s reign that increased during his son’s campaign. 

Instead, Bongbong refers to his father’s time in office as the Philippines’ “Golden Age,” and emphasizes his ability to bring the country back to this period. The disinformation spread by the Marcos campaign is known by historians as “historical distortion.”

The primary method of their spread of disinformation came in the form of social media ads. The campaign ran an abundance of ads that spread disinformation regarding Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency. The historical distortion has gone uncontested in the Philippines, a country where almost all of its citizens use the Internet and over half claim that it is hard for them to spot disinformation.

By placing his campaign in untested waters, Bongbong Marcos was able to win the election. He saw an option for him to use social media to not only spread his platform, but also to spread falsehoods that glorified his father and placed his own intentions in a better light. The election of a member of a Marcos family member after a period of exile is the realization of a long-known fact: social media is an unparalleled platform for political candidates to spread their messages, good or bad.

The election of another Duterte presents favor towards Chinese-leaning politicians. Rodrigo Duterte had made several moves to align the Philippines more closely with China. His moves were met by anti-China sentiment, but the election of his daughter paints a pro-China future for the Philippines’ international involvement. Duterte’s pro-China stance paired with the United States creating a strong opposition to Marcos and his father’s human rights abuses will make it difficult for the United States to have a strong rapport with the new executive. However, Marcos has recently shown U.S.-leanings. He discussed the implications of the tensions surrounding Taiwan for the Philippines. He said that the strained relationship between the United States and China is “very, very worrisome,” and he expects the Philippines military relationship with the United States. As the United States looks to expand its Indo-Pacific military presence, they may increase their reliance on Marcos and the Philippines. These remain key concerns to watch in the new year for this “new” administration.


Samuel Agustin

Samuel Agustin is a freshman from Wichita, Kansas studying International Relations. His areas of interest include international development, climate change, and human rights. Before coming to USC, Samuel interned at an anti-human trafficking organization. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and playing with his dogs.